The art of community: How creative contributions can transform a Kansas town

May 21, 2022 3:33 am

Cindy Crandall’s commitment to accessibility helped foster a community garden, public tandem bicycles and a new walking path in Deerfield. (Brett Crandall provided photo)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Brett Crandall is an actor, writer, producer, puppeteer and LGBTQIA+ activist based in Garden City.

Dear Cindy Crandall,

I wanted to congratulate you and your newlywed husband, Doug, on your wedding. It is 1983, The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross just debuted on PBS, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” has taken over your radio, and I’m sure that Doug’s hunting for teaching jobs.

Be on the lookout for a town called Deerfield. Sure, it’s hours away from your life and family in Salina. The smell … isn’t great. You may think, “Sure, but only for two, maybe three years, tops.”

Trust me when I say that in this humble town just west of Garden City, you will be a source of the most enriching “thrills” you can find this side of the Sunflower state.

Cindy Crandall poses for a photo in 1994. (Brett Crandall provided photo)

After working for a while at Deerfield Grocery and having your first couple of kids, Brooks and Bailey, you’ll apply for the co-director position at the Deerfield Recreation Commission. It may seem like administrative work at first, and the office is only a small desk space at the high school. But it’s here that you’ll truly start sparking creativity in generations of young Spartans.

First, you may need some guidance.

After having a couple of more kids, Brett and Bridget, you’ll hear about how to host an official Bob Ross art class, taught by Sandy Simon and T.R. Matthews, at Deerfield’s new community building. They’ll quickly become mentors to you as a budding artist. Over the years, they’ll encourage you to hone your own craft, and eventually teach classes yourself.

Not only through the Rec. Birthday parties, wine and paint events. There is immense satisfaction in the smiles on students’ faces. They’re shocked that they, too, can paint. All they need is the right teacher.

“Tot Lot” still happens every Tuesday morning, where you prepare a new children’s craft each week. Countless parents are grateful for this chance to connect with their neighbors, while their kids build social skills and find tools to better express themselves.

The Annual Deerfield Summer Celebration may currently be run by the local firefighters, but once you get involved, responsibility for the event shifts to the recreation department. It’s a lot of work, but your sisters drive out from Salina every year to fill gaps when needed.

Soon, Deerfield Days will be a larger “homecoming” event than, well, actual homecoming. You’ll manage to find a new theme every year, gather parade floats, book entertainment and curate an art show, of course. You’ll build traditions Deerfield takes great pride in, like having “The Best Fireworks Display in Southwest Kansas.”

Be sure to phone a friend for those large mural projects, at the Fitness Center you inevitably open in 1999 and the city pool building. When the years of weather have left your work faded, you partner with the high school’s art department to apply printed decals by local artists of all ages to have their work proudly displayed.

Over the years, you’ll hire generations of high schoolers as your summer activity aides, including all four of your kids. And in 2012, when their friend and your long-time rec employee Josh “Chachi” Skipton passes too soon, a new community center will be founded in his honor in that very grocery store on Main Street. “Chachi’s Place” is a shrine crafted with and in the spirit of public service, community, and homegrown excellence.

Chachi’s Place will then also serve as the director’s office. There you’ll continue to plan community events and trips for any and all occasions, possibly occupying your artistic mind more often than you care for. But no one does holiday crafts like you.

No one caters April Fool’s luncheons, where the potatoes look like sundaes and the desserts looks like meatloaf, like you can. No one champions the art of gathering like you can.

Eventually, your commitment to accessibility helps foster a community garden, public tandem bicycles and a new walking path. When you retire, you’ll receive a personal thank-you letter from Gov. Laura Kelly, a fellow advocate for parks and recreation. 

Members of a painting class show off the results of their work. (Brett Crandall provided photo)

Cindy Crandall knows that to show folks what is possible, sometimes you have to set the example. (Brett Crandall provided photo)

Know you’ll be retiring to colorful and creative Lindsborg with Doug to be closer to your grandkids. But you’ll be around to teach a class back in Garden City alongside a friend on Friday, May 27 at The Paint Place.

Over the coming years, in moments when you’re up late, head reeling with ideas, know that mini miracles happen with each craft you make. Each stroke of the brush adds to a masterpiece. 

I have been lucky enough to bear witness to your work, your process, since I was born. Your championing of art and expression has given me gumption enough to pursue my own career in the arts.

So from one artist to another, thanks for the lessons, Ma. They have and will continue to inspire and change lives.

Your son,


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Brett Crandall
Brett Crandall

Brett Crandall is an actor, writer, producer, puppeteer and LGBTQIA+ activist based in Garden City. A graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts-NY, he tours regularly with his puppetry practice, Brett Crandall Studios, with a focus on all-ages, queer-inclusive stories. He is a proud member of the Reflector's arts writing cohort.